Many Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) projects target the automation of critical laboratory functions for initial deployments, preferring to focus on solution ‘must-haves’ while often overlooking substantial benefits that could be realized from implementing other features. All too often, this results in a system without key instrument and data visualization/manipulation interfaces. Perhaps one of the most overlooked and under-implemented interfaces is the simple but powerful barcode.
Barcodes have been around for many years in consumer spaces – but what can they do for a laboratory? The answer largely depends on what kind of technology is used: traditional barcodes or Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID).
Traditional barcodes exist in two forms: One-Dimensional and Two-Dimensional. Both types involve using an optical sensor at a set distance to read the information on the barcode. One-Dimensional barcodes typically track just one piece of data, such as the sample number. Two-Dimensional barcodes (e.g. QR Code, Data Matrix, MaxiCode, Aztec) are able to contain much more data, including sample ID, customer ID, lot numbers, and more.
The newest trend in sample management, RFID, promises to transform lab operations by allowing encoded information to be read wirelessly from a distance. Inexpensive, unpowered RFID tags are placed on samples and ‘come to life’ when they are exposed to a powered read/write device. These devices can take many shapes, including handheld readers, gates around laboratory doors, sampling locations, and even personnel!
Sample disposition and disposal. Recording the final disposition or destruction of sample material doesn’t have to be any more difficult than identifying samples and throwing them away in designated locations that are equipped with RFID scanners.
It’s clear that the entire sample lifecycle – from registration (login), to receipt, testing, storage, and disposal – can all reap benefits from the utilization of RFID technology. The value of RFID scales with widespread deployment in areas where large numbers of samples need to be tracked and managed, bringing the cost of adopting the technology well worth the initial investment.
If you haven’t already adopted barcoding or RFID technology, do you feel that your organization would benefit? If so, which technology would you go with?